When parents separate or divorce, there's no such thing as "just moving on." Parents are tied together forever, through their children. When children are younger and child support has to be paid, it's a sensitive time for families in transition. Parents are likely to be resentful about child support orders. Neither parent is apt to think the amount of child support that has to be paid is fair. Sometimes the conflict becomes very intense or the paying parent runs into hard times, and child support doesn't get paid at all.
This article will explain how child support orders are enforced in the State of Louisiana. If you have any questions about child support enforcement after you read this article, you should contact a family law attorney for advice.
Whether you're divorcing or you've never been married, when your relationship with your child's other parent ends you need to get an official child support order from a court. Without a child support order, a paying parent will not be able to ask a court or local agency to enforce the child support obligation or collect payment.
In Louisiana, child support orders are determined according to each parent's adjusted gross income and a mathematical formula known as the child support guidelines. For a detailed discussion of how child support is calculated, see Child Support in Louisiana by Teresa Wall-Cyb.
Louisiana law requires both parents to pay child support based on the needs of the child and the ability of the parents to provide support. Both parents are expected to provide basic financial support for things like food, housing, and clothing. They're also responsible for medical and dental expenses, like insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. For purposes of this article, the parent who receives child support is known as the "receiving parent," while the parent who has to pay is called "the paying parent."
When the paying parent fails to pay child support, the receiving parent and the child may find themselves in financial straits. Receiving parents have several options for enforcing child support orders and collecting payments.
Within a Louisiana state agency known as the Department of Children and Family Services is an office called Child Support Enforcement (CSE). CSE was established to enforce state and federal laws regarding child support.
CSE performs a number of critical child support enforcement functions. It uses an administrative (non-judicial) process to:
CSE also acts as an intermediary for receiving and distributing payments. Paying parents make payments to the Centralized Collection Unit, which tracks the accounts and then distributes the funds to the receiving parents. This prevents parents from having to write checks to each other or argue about money.
CSE has several enforcement tools available to it for enforcing support orders and obtaining overdue payments from a delinquent parent. However, in urgent or complicated cases, parents might find it's in their best interest to locate a private lawyer or legal aid attorney who can go to court and argue to a judge on their behalf. In some circumstances, this can be more effective than waiting for CSE to act.
CSE has a variety of methods it can use to extract payment from parents with past-due accounts (known as arrearages), including, but not limited to:
If you're a paying parent, keep up with your obligation and don't fall into arrearages. If you think you might have a problem keeping up, contact the CSE, a family lawyer, or a legal aid attorney for advice about reducing your payments and paying off your arrearages. The worst thing you can do is let arrearages accumulate until the CSE takes enforcement measures against you. Once that happens, it's harder to fix the damage to your finances and your reputation.
On the other hand, if you're a receiving parent, it's important that you understand all the enforcement mechanisms that CSE can take against a parent who's failed to pay child support. Understanding the laws and the options will prepare you to contact CSE and ask them to take the appropriate action to ensure that your children are financially supported and have what they need.
Louisiana Judicial Branch
Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services, Child Support Enforcement Services